State puts off exit exam for two more years: Tahoe Truckee officials say decision will ‘make a bad situation worse’ | SierraSun.com

State puts off exit exam for two more years: Tahoe Truckee officials say decision will ‘make a bad situation worse’

Renee Shadforth

Next year’s Tahoe Truckee Unified School District juniors and seniors are off the hook from having to pass the California High School Exit Exam to get their diplomas.

The exemption follows last week’s unanimous decision by the state board of education to postpone the requirement for two years, because too many students were inadequately prepared for the three-day exam.

It’s a decision that will only cause students to become more complacent about the test, said Ruta Krusa, director of curriculum for Tahoe Truckee Unified.

“It’s been hard, from my perspective, to get students to take [the exam] seriously, because it had been so far off (for next year’s seniors),” Krusa said. “I think [the postponement] will only exacerbate that. Students will say, ‘Oh, they’ll just put it off again.’ I’m afraid California is going to make a bad situation worse.”

The class of ’04 tried the exam for the first time as sophomores in 2001 – the first year the state administered the test, which tries students’ ninth-grade-level language arts and math skills.

“I really didn’t think [the test] was a problem. It was pretty easy,” said JJ Besio, who will be a junior at Tahoe Truckee High School next year. Besio, who said he gets good grades, took the test and passed as a sophomore last year.

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In 2001, students in Tahoe Truckee Unified beat the state average pass rate in math – 32 percent – with a 41 percent pass rate.

In the English and language arts portion of the exam, however, the district students did not fare so well compared to statewide averages: Fifty-four percent of the students passed statewide, while 43 percent of district high school students made the graduation requirement.

District students improved their scores last year, Krusa said, with a 60 percent pass rate.

However, with statewide improvements over the past two years, opponents of the exam say English learners are still at a disadvantage when taking the test. Of the six English learners in the district who took the test in 2001, zero passed the exam, according to the California Department of Education.

In order to prepare more students for the exam – especially English language learners and special education students, who both have to pass the test in order to graduate – teachers referred some students to summer school for intensive English and math courses.

At North Tahoe High School, 70 referrals were sent out, and “no more than four signed up,” Krusa said.

Krusa, who is also a summer school principal, hired the teachers for the courses and even offered to hold the classes at night for working students, but still, no more students registered.

“When this test becomes a reality, that attitude is going to have to change,” she said.

Next year, sophomores will continue taking the test in preparation for the 2006 graduation requirement. In its decision, the state board of education also cut the length of the test back from three days to two by removing one of the two English essays from the exam.

Some students, like Besio sees the reduction in test time as a positive move.

“I don’t like it that we had to take it because it took time away from my other classes,” he said. “Honestly, I don’t know why it is necessary.”